"Meaningful Use" of Electronic Health Records

Hospitals and doctors will soon be eligible for federal incentives to help acquire and use health information technology.

Starting in May 2011, the federal government will begin paying bonuses to doctors, clinicians and hospitals that use electronic health records (EHRs).

Until 2016, individual doctors and other providers may earn up to $44,000 from Medicare or $63,750 from Medicaid—and hospitals can earn millions—if they demonstrate they are making “meaningful use” of EHR systems. Experts estimate that the incentives could total $27 billion in federal funding.

When Congress created the EHR pool in 2009, lawmakers decreed that it was not enough for health care providers to merely acquire such systems, but that they also would have to make meaningful use of these systems—the definition of which Congress left up to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In July 2010, HHS released a final regulation defining what constitutes meaningful use.

Two questions remain that only time will answer: Are the meaningful use requirements too stringent, too loose or just right for accomplishing their goals? Will EHRs truly transform the way health care is delivered in the United States?

This Health Policy Brief examines whether EHRs will advance the transformation of health care delivery, and was published online on August 24, 2010 in Health Affairs.